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88 Bernard West (at St. Urbain)

Hours: Wed-Fri:12:00-14:00. Sun-Thu:17:00-22:00h. Fri-Sat: 17:00-23:00h
All major credit cards. Tel.: 271-6733
It’s pretty schizoid going to an Asian restaurant in Montreal these days. The provenance of the food doesn’t seem to matter to the majority of customers, or you might have more of an outcry. As long as the waitstaff conform to certain parameters, ie. a) look Asian and b) speak in indecipherable hieroglyphics, the food must be authentic, or so the theory goes.

The fact is, though, most Japanese restos are owned and operated by Vietnamese, the prevalence of whom in this city outweigh the Japanese population at least 10 to one. As for Thai . . . well, suffice to say, all is not as it seems in Bangkok, Montreal, lately.

This is, however, not necessarily bad. As I’m quite fond of saying, just because you’re Italian doesn’t mean you make a mean Bolognese.

So, that out of the way, we have here Restaurant Thaïlande, a popular Mile-end Thai resto run by Vietnamese.

As far as cross-cultures go, it’s not much of a stretch, as Vietnam is practically part-owner of Thailand, proximitywise anyway. The blends of spices—lemongrass, coconut, basil, coriander, galangal, chilies—are virtually part of the same shopping lists.

Thaïlande sits on Bernard, on the border of Outremont and the Plateau. It’s a non-descript interior, at least for the peasantry; half of the space is Western-style seating, while the other half (which we were inexplicably not privy to) is . . . Japanese style? Last time I checked, the Thai do not eat on tatami mats, but I could be wrong. There were no patrons at all in this Japanese-styled portion of the room the night we were there.

The staff are extremely accomodating. They are eagle-eyed and attentive, even in the most crowded of situations, which unfortunately was the case the night we were there: all the customers were jammed into the one Western-style room, where tables are quiet close together. Still, no one at all was smoking, so that was a relief.

The menu is fairly large, the ordering style being in categories: a particular style of sauce, with a choice of vegetables, pork, beef, lamb, chicken etc. to go with it. There are little chili icons next to the names, with 3 chilis as “On Order,” but none of the dishes actually have three chilis next to them.

A Tom Yum soup with shrimp ($3.95) came in a small bowl, replete with the zing and tang of chilis, globules of coconut milk and an electric mix of tart lemongrass and galangal. It was a good harbinger of things to come.

A grilled shrimp (Koung Pao) served with spicy sauce ($12.95) was unexpectedly served with the shells on. Once we got past that surprise, the 8 medium shrimp were succulent and satisfying, the sweet-sour dipping sauce zesty and colourful.

Thai spring rolls ($3.25) were completely different from the usual Asian fare—more like wraps, uncooked, with rice-paper skins over lettuce, noodles and basil/coriander leaves, served with a sweet peanut sauce. Refreshing, but I’d had in mind the deep-fried variety, which, I discovered too late were available under the nomenclature “Egg rolls.”

An order of Kaeng Phed (red curry, with coconut milk and basil) was quite extraordinary. Ordered “extra-spicy,” it wasn’t, but was nonetheless rich with small chili explosions and the unexpected additions of bamboo shoots and red pepper. The heady aroma of basil and coconut perfused the sauce, and every spoonful was a treasure. The accompanying Jasmine rice was also aromatic, but pehaps a tad overcooked.

A Pad Si Ew (Sautéed noodles with beef and broccoli, $8.25) was much less successful, rather pasty with an indiscernable mishmash of flavours and somewhat tired beef slices.

Still, the menu is huge, and there are potentially many hits to be had to go with the relatively few misses. The staff is energetic and enthusiastic, the beer is cold and the atmosphere is warm, so hop across the border and have a near-Thai experience at Thaïlande.

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